The History of Social Media & Social Media Marketing

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It is near impossible to imagine a world without social media or social media marketing. With an estimated 3.81 billion people across the globe currently active on various platforms, it is clear that the social media thread has been woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.

It is strange to think, then, that social media platforms have only existed in their current form since the mid-1990s (and no, it didn’t start with Facebook!). Let’s take a quick look at the history of social media and social media marketing, and the evolution that has led it to become the juggernaut that it is today.

In the beginning: There were only Six Degrees

While many companies were experimenting with the concept of social media as early as the 1980s (think General Electric’s GENie platform), Six Degrees is universally acknowledged as the first true social media platform.

Founded in 1997 by Andrew Weinrich, Six Degrees allowed individuals to upload profile pictures, post bulletin board items, connect with other users, and build their social groups. At the peak of its powers, Six Degrees had roughly 3.5 million registered users. Considered to be ground-breaking at the time, it was eventually sold in 2000 for $125 million and shut down in 2001 before making a comeback.

Daily entries into your LiveJournal

Then the blogging craze kicked off in 1999 with the launch of LiveJournal. Users were able to create blog entries as a means of keeping friends updated about the goings-on in their lives. LiveJournal’s blog posts are often seen as a precursor to Facebook’s status updates.

The company was sold in 2007 to a Russian media firm.

LunarStorm made it rain – financially

LunarStorm was a Swedish social networking site, aimed at teenagers, and founded in 2000 by Rickard Ericsson. LunarStorm is not known for any particular technological advancements.

However, it is considered to be Europe’s first digital online community. It is also one of the first social networking sites to be funded by commercial advertising revenue, possibly setting the stage for future social media marketing endeavours. LunarStorm closed down in August 2010 due to a lack of activity.

Everybody’s favourite Friend(ster)

Social networking made further strides in the early 2000s. Several sites popped up within a few years of each other. Chief among these sites was Friendster. The company was founded in 2002 by Jonathan Abrams, Peter Chin, and Dave Lee, and was initially designed to be a dating site that helped people connect with mutual friends.

Friendster is notable for being among the first social sites to allow profile comments. It also made connecting with others a lot easier by introducing the option to message “friends of friends of friends”. Friendster closed its doors in June 2015 and dissolved as a company about three years later.

MySpace presents the alternative

2003 turned out to be another watershed year for social media. MySpace launched in August 2003 and quickly rose to become Friendster’s direct rival. Offering innovative features like customisable public profiles, and the ability to embed music and videos into posts, MySpace raced past Friendster to become the official ‘go-to’ social media platform.

At the height of its popularity, MySpace had around 100 million users. It is often credited as being the first true mainstream social networking site. In July 2005, NewsCorp acquired MySpace for $580 million. However, corporate involvement saw a sudden downturn in the site’s popularity, resulting in a massive decline in users. MySpace was sold again, six years later, for a meager $35 million.

Linking up on LinkedIn

Another social media conglomerate, LinkedIn, was also born in 2003. Launched in 2003, the site was initially regarded as “MySpace for adults”. It provided users with the opportunity to showcase their resumés and connect with companies and other business-orientated individuals.

Unlike MySpace, LinkedIn has grown in leaps and bounds, boasting more than 500 million users today. LinkedIn is currently valued at more than $26 billion. It would seem, in this case, that the adults know better.

The emergence of the behemoth

In 2004 Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, forever changing the face of the social media landscape. The site gained popularity almost instantly, registering more than a million users in less than a year.

Facebook initially offered The Wall, where users could publicly post about their daily activities. Building on the successes and failures of past social networks, Facebook continued to tweak their site, allowing for status updates, shares, music, video, news content, and the world-famous “like” button.

In 2007, Facebook launched its standalone ad platform, paving the way for social media marketing and advertising. Today, Facebook rakes in more than $65 billion in ad revenue annually. 

The Twitter egg hatched

The social media world was taken a bit by storm in 2007 when Twitter launched. Regarded as the top microblogging site, it both fascinated and frustrated users with its 140-character limit for tweets. They did eventually change this to 280 characters in 2017. Twitter also introduced a host of innovative features such as hashtags, retweets, and using the @ symbol to include other users in the conversation.

Today, Twitter is so much more than just a microblogging site. It offers users a 24-hour news cycle (often at a much faster pace than Facebook) and makes space for robust discussions on current issues. It has also become a wonderful platform for businesses to interact with new and existing customers, to the extent that many companies now incorporate Twitter as part of their marketing strategies. 

A (filtered) picture is worth a thousand words

Who knew that so many people like to share their photos? Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger did. The two co-founded Instagram, the world’s premier photo-sharing app in 2010. Today, the app boasts more than 500 million active users, with 95 million photos uploaded every single day.

Instagram is also an excellent place for companies to do social media marketing and advertising. Many companies currently embed URL links into their posts, allowing users who display interest in a particular product or service to click and get routed to the company’s online store. Instagram raked in a little more than $20 billion in ad revenue during 2019.

And now

The last decade has seen the emergence of several other social media players such as Pinterest, Snapchat (the first to offer ephemeral content), and TikTok, all catering to the ever-increasing social media demand. If history is anything to go by, social media will continue to evolve and adapt to incorporate even more of our lives.

Not only has social media in all its forms infiltrated our day to day existence, but it is also a very powerful tool for business. The various social platforms have evolved to an extent that they offer great networking, advertising, and social media marketing opportunities, but more than that, they allow companies to build a community that is invested in their brand through the sharing of relevant and engaging content.

Social media marketing, as part of any digital marketing strategy, offers a multitude of benefits to small business owners, including the opportunity to market their products, target their audience, and create a brand following without having to have a marketing degree or break the bank.

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